The QMEE CDT Project proposal database

Welcome to the QMEE CDT Project proposal database. This is a live list of projects proposals put forward by PIs across the CDT partner institutions

PIs/Supervisors will continue to add projects to this list over the next few months, so do keep checking back! You can search the projects using the box below: simply enter some text and press Search to do a text search across all the database fields. If you want to search more finely, the search tool also allows you to search on particular details of the project descriptions: you will see these finer search options appear if you click on the search box.

Click on the view button next to a project to get the full proposal description. If you want to download project details, either for all projects, or for a subset you have searched for, then click on the 'Download details' button.

How eco-evolutionary dynamics shape natural enemies in complex landscapes
Producing more food while preserving the environment is a major societal aim and sustainable development goal. This implies harnessing and conserving benefits from nature, such as pollination of crops by wild pollinators, and natural control of crop pests by beneficial predatory insects. A current paradigm is that such ecosystem services are supported by increasing the density of landscape elements in agricultural landscapes through providing shelter and alternative food resources for beneficial organisms. While there have been major advances on harnessing pollination services from wild pollinators, recent syntheses suggest the response of natural enemies to agricultural management is not well understood, which may in part reflect differences among functional groups in their dispersal ability and response to pesticide use (1). Spiders are important biocontrol agents of pest species in agricultural landscapes, and can help farmers reduce their reliance on insecticides and have a net benefit on yield (2). As pests evolve resistance to pesticides they are expected to play an increasingly important role. The most widespread and abundant spiders in temperate agricultural systems belong to the Family Linyphiidae. These small ‘money’ spiders are shown to be effective in preventing pest populations, such as aphids, from escaping predator control, in part because their unique ‘ballooning’ dispersal strategy enables them to quickly recolonise agricultural fields subject to pesticide application (3). These ecological dynamics raise a number of important questions around how to best manage the landscape to maximise the benefits of natural enemies - including the timing and spatial spread of pesticide application, the role of refugia in landscapes e.g. trees and field margins, the impacts of mismatches in life-history between predator and prey under climate change, and the potential for evolutionary responses in dispersal strategy and pesticide resistance in complex landscapes. The aim of this project is to develop a modelling framework to investigate these questions. The student will develop an agent-based model for money spiders, one that incorporates full life-history, realistic spatial landscapes and biological interactions, providing a tool to better inform decisions on how to promote these beneficial species through better habitat management and landscape design in a changing climate (4). It also provides a framework that can be extended to other natural enemies and different crop types within agricultural landscapes, contributing to our wider understanding of biodiversity attributes and ecosystem services. Main project objectives 1) Develop an agent-based model of Linyphiidae spiders parameterised with data from the literature and laboratory. 2) Validate predictions of ballooning events using citizen science data from Nottingham’s Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) 3) Extend the model to include predator prey interactions with aphids to explore the potential for phenological mismatch under climate warming 4) Investigate various scenarios of habitat management on the effectiveness of spiders to control pest populations. References 1. Lichtenberg EM et al. (2017) Glob Change Biol 00: 1–12 2. Bengtsson J (2015) Ecol Entomol 40: 45–55 3. Woolley C et al. (2016) J Arachnology 44: 347-358 4. Montoya JM & Raffaeilli D (2010) Phil Trans R Soc B 365: 2013-2018
Richard Walters
Michael Garratt
Dr Sara Goodacre, School of Life Sciences (Spider Lab lead), University of Nottingham, Sara.Goodacre@nottingham.ac.uk
Computing, Quantitative data analysis, Ecological observations / data collection, Evolutionary observations / data collection
Richard Walters
Most wanted skills by NERC include: modelling, data management, numeracy and risk and uncertainty. Specifically the student will receive training in the following areas: 1) Mathematical biology and its application to population ecology 2) Computer programming and its application to Individual-Based Modelling, simulations and scenarios 3) Statistically robust experimental design and practice
The role of natural enemies as an ecosystem service is poorly understood compared to pollination. This in part reflects species interactions, the timing of ballooning events and local land/pest management strategies. By building a process-based model we can investigate the roles of multiple drivers on population ecology of predators and their prey in landscapes.
This project is about sustainable food production and addresses several current key challenges: integrated pest management, the emergence of pesticide resistance, natural enemies as an ecosystem service, land sharing vs. land sharing and predicting the impacts of climate change. Central to this project is to develop a deeper understanding of eco-evolutionary dynamics.
This project is about sustainable food production and addresses several current key challenges: integrated pest management, the emergence of pesticide resistance, natural enemies as an ecosystem service, land sharing vs. land sharing and predicting the impacts of climate change.
Understanding how natural enemies evolve dispersal strategies, pesticide resistance and foraging decisions in agricultural landscapes on a contemporary timescale has real world impact for farmers, horticulturists, agribusiness and policy makers involved in Common Agricultural Policy.
Theoretical principles of energetics form the basis of an agent-based model, a tool to address several applied challenges in sustainable food production, including the optimization of pesticide application in light of evolved resistance and improvements to landscape design and management under climate change. Parameterisation of the model will entail laboratory and field work.
Community ecology, Population ecology, Ecosystem-scale processes and land use
General skills in statistics and programming in R are required at Imperial. Individual-Based Model programming in NetLogo will be offered at Reading. Additional language training maybe required e.g. in Python (at Imperial/Reading) and GIS (Imperial/Reading). Additional practical training on spider rearing in the laboratory will be offered at Nottingham, and field surveying at Sonning Farm.
Imperial/Reading
No
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